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Interview with Jennifer Fox, Director, Producer and Subject of Flying: Confessions of a Free Women

Interview with Jennifer Fox, Director, Producer and Subject of Flying: Confessions of a Free Women

Originally published on May 12, 2008. Fox’s series Confessions of a Free Woman follows Fox’s personal journey around the globe to discover
what it means to be a woman today. While juggling her career and multi-partner
love life, Jennifer Fox finds herself in a crisis over who she is as a woman.
Flying: Confessions of A Free Woman initiates groundbreaking dialogue among
women all around the world illuminating universal concerns across race, class
and nationality

Confessions of a Free Woman airs in two parts beginning on March 17th and then March 24th on WORLD channel at 8:00 pm. 

Women & Hollywood was able to
ask Jennifer Fox about making the film and how it has changed her.

Women & Hollywood: Each episode
starts off with the following resonant statement: “I never wanted to be a girl
in the way a girl was supposed to be. I wanted to be a boy. They could do
anything they wanted to do.” Why was it important to begin each episode that

Jennifer Fox: I think it really sums up the dilemma of our
lives – boys can do everything and girls can do very little. Remember, I grew
up in the late 50s but I have a feeling that girls grow up not so different
today…the gender lines have not been broken. And on this iconographic issue of
raising children in some ways its like we are back in the 50s.

W&H: In the beginning episodes
you are focused on having a child after many years of ambivalence. You question
whether you are real woman in our culture without having a child.

JF: We define women as being married mothers actually. It’s
marriage plus children.

W&H: Do you feel you are in a
different place from where you started the film?

JF: You are looking at a woman who has run away screaming
from a female identity, saying I will not be controlled by the rules, I will
live as men live. At the beginning of the film I am a long way from being a
feminist because I completely sided with my father. I arrive at the end of the
film siding with my mother and realizing that I am a part of a fabric that I
didn’t know I was part of before. At the end of the film [which was two years
ago] I was still much more focused on having a child than I am now. I certainly
feel that you can be woman and not have children, but I don’t think society
feels that.

W&H: Do you think that if you
would have had more of a feminist identity you have come to the film from a
different place?

JF: Oh yeah, but I think the film would not have been as
good. I think that if I would have talked as politically as I do now it
wouldn’t have made for a good film. What’s good about the film is that I was in
a crisis of identity; I couldn’t speak the language because I couldn’t
identify. What you see is someone searching for who they are. That was real.
The good news about the film is that you follow my journey and that made a
better film and one that younger women highly identify with.

W&H: Because you are not
self-identified as a feminist?

JF: Right, and just like when I was a kid a lot of people
still see feminist as a bad word.

W&H: Your film is heterosexually
focused. Did you think about having lesbian stories as part of the film?

JF: I did really want to have a lesbian story but all of my
attempts failed. I always thought that at the end of the film I would break up
with these 2 guys and go out with a woman as a way to investigate my
bisexuality. It didn’t happen. I think the problem is because there are so few
films like this that we want it to cover everything. It’s actually quite a
narrow. It’s about sexual freedom and control internationally. The main thing
was that the film had to go around the world, not that it had to cover all
female identities.

W&H: What was so interesting was
that you are taking people on a journey and exposing them to the international
women’s movement that many people here in the US are so unfamiliar with.

JF: I think what’s really important about Flying is
issues of representation. We are used to looking at the third world in a kind
of object-oriented way when the camera points at them and hides the filmmaker.
What I was trying to do was to say that we (US) who think we are so different
from them are actually in the same frame. That’s why it was so important for me
to put a white affluent, western woman in the same frame as a woman from
Pakistan or Cambodia or India to visually shift the representation. I wanted to
say these women are like us. That’s why the issues of my sexual abuse and
sexuality were so important to unravel in the film because they are so common
and that totally breaks down the wall between us.

W&H: Your film was financed
internationally? How did you make that happen?

JF: I have quite an international reputation in the
documentary film scene. The reason why this was a Danish co-production is
because the film making strategies – the one person one camera – and the
intimacy is something they’ve done very successfully in Denmark. A producer
approached me and we decided to partner. Doing a co-production is always quite
hard. I lived in Denmark for a year and a half and my Danish editor was here
and its hard and always more expensive. In our case it was successful because
there was a creative reason to work together.

W&H: Why do you think that women
are drawn to documentaries?

JF: They are just so much fun to
make and they are hands on. Of course politically, [docs are more welcoming to
women because of the smaller crews, smaller budgets, and less power] but at the
same time it’s also about having direct contact with a subject and people and I
think women thrive on that. We are relationship beings.

There are very few women making
series and when I made American Love Story I was the only woman I knew
in PBS land who made a series. I’m probably still the only woman to have
directed and produced a ten-hour series for public TV. One of the issues I had
to deal with [at the time] was how a thirty something woman could be trusted
with the scope and the money this would take. Those issues of money, power and
responsibility are always the same for women.

W&H: Why do you think your film
is resonating with people?

JF: I see this film is resonating so differently and it
generates profound dialogue. Women and men say to me: “this is my life and
nobody has put it on screen before and it’s such a relief.” I don’t think that
I’ve made a film that speaks so universally and directly before. My films have
been successful but this is something different. Screening after screening I
see this other reaction. I see it as a movement. You have to let people talk.

W&H: Do you embrace feminism

JF: I do. A lot of the effort is to get people to talk about
gender in a new way and to see that sexism and gender issues are so ingrained
in us and you have to do the daily work. It means don’t capitulate to the idea
of giving up your job because you have kids. There is a point where we have to
demand gender equality and you have to start with yourself.

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